Dubai – Lower the roofline by 20mm, add some slimmer taillights with a 718-esque connecting reflector strip, rework the hind quarters to look more sportscar and less squatting dog, and voila! The once fugly Panamera is suddenly the sexy four-door fastback it was designed to be but wasn’t.
For this second generation version Porsche briefed sculptors to shape a clean-slate exterior that’s not only instantly recognisable as a Panamera, but also instantly recognisable as a NEW Panamera. Nailed it. And while they were at it, some more powerful engines, a new eight-speed gearbox and a whole lotta fancy new gadgets were thrown in too.
It’s certainly prettier this time around, but trust us, the real beauty’s under the skin. This Panamera’s new from the ground up, and we mean that very literally. The only items shared between the new version and old are the name and the shield-shaped Porsche crest.
There’s a completely new design direction happening for Porsche inside too, where the previous version’s button-littered flight deck makes way for a far simpler, slicker layout. Hard buttons in the centre console have been replaced with a one-piece piano black panel which incorporates touch sensitive keys with haptic clicks much like an iPhone 7, while front and centre is a 12.3-inch touchscreen which houses menu upon menu of complex systems settings and infotainment displays.
The homescreen can be customised to an owner’s liking with programmed shortcuts and widgets, and it’s all reasonably easy to understand, but electronically-challenged customers could be overwhelmed by its elaborate functionality. Simple adjustments, such as pointing the centre vent in a certain direction, now require touchscreen finger swipes and prods. This particular gimmick is unnecessary, but I must admit, still very cool to play with.
Then there are two 7-inch colour screens either side of a rev-counter with an actual needle (so old fashioned!) which can be configured with various information readouts, including full colour nav maps. And, the back seats also get a colour touchscreen of their own for seat, climate and media adjustments.
Underneath is a completely revised chassis that’s just a touch wider with a much longer wheelbase, and rear-wheel steering can now be fitted optionally to make non-events of traffic circles, and ensure cruise missile stability at high speed.
Three chamber air suspension comes as standard fitment, and together with clever electromechanical anti-roll bars offers a ride quality that ranges from plush like a duck down duvet, to tight as a grasshopper’s hamstring at the push of a button. The test route at last week’s media launch in Dubai involved mostly long, straight stretches of desert highway where its softest settings made hundreds of kilometers disappear into blissful oblivion. But then when a rare string of bends arose, sportier modes saw the two-ton luxobarge hunker down with a tar-to-rubber magnetism I’ve never before experienced in this class of car.
What class is that? Yeah, that’s a difficult one. Somewhere between four-door coupe, luxury limo and ultimate hatchback. Technically this is an A7, CLS, Gran Coupe or Ghibli competitor, but the Panamera leans way more toward the “race me, race me, I was born at the Nurburgring” performance end of the sports sedan spectrum.
The South African range will kick off with 4S and Turbo variants near the end of the February, with base (rear-wheel drive) Panamera, normal (less powerful) 4 and extended wheelbase models expected to land later. The plug-in E-Hybrid probably won’t make it to our market.
The 4S gets an all-new 2.9-litre V6 with two turbos nestled between the cylinder banks in similar style to Merc’s latest high-performance engines. Outputs are set at 324kW and 550Nm – good enough for claimed 0-100km/* times of 4.2 seconds with a top speed of 289. The Turbo’s 4-litre V8 sees the same inner-V turbo arrangement, but power here is up to 404kW and 770Nm and 0-100km/* happens in 3.2 seconds (not a typo!) with a max speed of 306.
Both, and all forthcoming models have exchanged seven-speed PDK autoboxes for new eight-speeders which Porsche confidently says is the “best shifting dual-clutch transmission ever”. While “best shifting” is quite the ambiguous statement, we won’t argue that it’s indeed up there with the best in the business in terms of smoothness in comfort, and sharpness in sport modes. A clever new InnoDrive system also uses radar, cameras and GPS data to preview the road ahead for up to 3km and prime the PDK with ideal shift maps.
The majority of my time was spent at the wheel of a 4S so I can’t really comment on the range-topping Turbo’s frightening performance claims. But let me tell you, the lesser V6 still packs a hefty enough punch to stand toe-to-toe with the quickest AMGs, Ms and RSs from rival brands. This is a seriously quick machine, with sublime handling and enough electronica to win over even the geekiest technophile. It’s good to look at too.
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Panamera 4S – R1 564 000
Panamera Turbo – R2 441 000
Prices include a three-year Porsche Driveplan